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Making the most of LinkedIn.

How to harness the power of LinkedIn to build your networks and super-charge your career.

By: Martin Thomas

LinkedIn is enjoying something of a renaissance, in part because it doesn’t force us to struggle with the blurring of our private and professional lives.  LinkedIn is for business … not funny cat photos, drunken party shots or lockdown dance moves. This might make it appear somewhat boring to the typical Facebook, Instagram or TikTok user, but that is its strength.  It is single-mindedly focussed on maximising value for our professional lives.

LinkedIn is a low maintenance platform.  Twitter is like a nagging child always seeking attention – demanding an almost constant stream of activity.  In contrast, LinkedIn is relatively undemanding.  There is no urgency to respond to a post within minutes and the content you create can have a long shelf-life – I still occasionally receive comments on articles or posts I wrote years ago.  In my experience, using LinkedIn for only five minutes a day can add value to your professional life – introducing you to new, relevant articles, keeping you in-touch with developments within your professional network (people changing jobs, getting promotions or winning awards) and giving you a platform to share your views and expertise through comments, posts and the occasional longer-form article.

One of the easiest ways to generate content is simply to like, share or comment on someone else’s article.  However, be wary of simply recycling the same old material that has already been widely shared.  This isn’t adding value to the professional lives of those people in your network.  Share things that your audience may not have seen.  Find a distinctive angle on a well-discussed topic. Have an opinion, encourage and feed debate.  Don’t be boring.  LinkedIn discussions are rarely adversarial.   Arguments can get heated, but unlike Twitter and Facebook they rarely degenerate into unpleasant mudslinging, so having an opinion (even if it is slightly controversial) is unlikely to get you into trouble and will hopefully get you noticed.

Some people remain nervous about the idea of using social media for self-promotion, but in the words of one business magazine editor, who in interviewed for my last book, ‘you can’t be a shy director any more’.  Building and amplifying a profile on LinkedIn or other social channel isn’t ‘showing off’ but demonstrating leadership and supporting the interests of your employer.   Clients, candidates and potential partners are far more likely to check out the profiles and opinions of the senior leadership team than the official corporate channels and posts issued by individuals are far more likely to be read than those from anonymous corporations.   This is why the reputation of most organisations is defined more by the aggregated profiles of their leadership teams than by the official corporate channels.

As with all social media platforms, LinkedIn rewards active participation.  The more you share, upload, publish, comment and like, the more people are likely to see your profile and the stronger your network will become.  Two or three LinkedIn updates a week and the occasional longer-form piece of content, such as a quarterly LinkedIn article, is usually enough to keep your network buzzing and don’t assume that everything has to be written – photos, graphics, cartoons, infographics and videos work particularly well on LinkedIn.

You should also spend time on self-appraisal – analysing the effectiveness of your activities and continuously seeking to improve your performance.  In simple terms this means doing more of what works and less of what does not – for example, if your posts are failing to generate many views, likes or comments, maybe you should redirect your efforts to something else or find something different to write about.

And if you are a technophobe, don’t worry.  The best way to become a successful user of social media is to adopt what you might describe as traditional networking techniques.  If you think about colleagues who are considered ‘good networkers’, they typically embrace the spirit of reciprocity.  They occasionally celebrate their successes but more often do useful or generous things for other people – share useful information, contribute positively to their work, provide free advice, share their material with their networks, simply say ‘thank you’ every once in a while, on the understanding that they will be rewarded in return; maybe not immediately, but at some stage in the future.   They identify areas of mutual interest –  topics or subjects that they can share and discuss or debate with other people.  They play the long game – experienced sales people will say that it requires multiple contacts or meetings to convert a sale and the same principle applies to networking.  If you are seeking an immediate conversion of an online connection into something of tangible value, such as a sales lead, you are likely to be disappointed.  Apply these same networking skills to your use of LinkedIn and you won’t go wrong.

To find out more about how you can make the most of social media, check out my book  The Financial Times Guide to Social Media Strategy: Boost your business, manage risk and develop your personal brand, published by FT Publishing International. You can buy a copy here.